Monday, February 26, 2007

ILM and The Academy Awards

Industrial Light & Magic won its first Academy Award for visual effects in 12 years. The previous award was for the revolutionary effects in "Forrest Gump," for which Ken Ralston, George Murphy, Stephen Rosenbaum and Allen Hall took home Oscars.

"Pirates 2: Dead Man's Chest" was an amazing collaborative effort on behalf of ILM. Every single department was challenged to perform the finest work, and the final film really illustrates this.

Much has been made about the 12 year 'drought' for ILM between "Gump" and "Pirates 2," especially after consistently earning so many Oscars previous to "Gump" (14 out of 18, to be precise). No one was more cognizant of this 'drought' than ILMers, ourselves.

But just for perspective, I wanted to give props to the ILM productions that have been nominated (yet did not win) for the Academy Awards between 1994's "Forrest Gump" and 2006's "Pirates 2":

ILM's Academy Award Nominations between "Gump" and "Pirates 2":
  • 1996, "Dragonheart" and "Twister"
  • 1997, "The Lost World," and "Starship Troopers" *
  • 1998, "Mighty Joe Young"
  • 1999, "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"
  • 2000, "The Perfect Storm"
  • 2001, "Artificial Intelligence" and "Pearl Harbor"
  • 2002, "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones"
  • 2003, "Master and Commander" and "Pirates of the Caribbean"
  • 2004, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
  • 2005, "The Chronicles of Narnia," "War of the Worlds"
*In 1997, ILM was one of many houses on "Starship Troopers," but was brought on late in production. Also, ILM actually worked on "Titanic," which won the Oscar, but in an extremely limited role.

Those are some amazing projects, with some crazy-good visual effects. Unfortunately, in almost every case, the film that won the Oscar was a much more enjoyable film, overall. Two great cases are 1996 and 2000, where "Independence Day" won the award over "Twister," and "Gladiator" beat out "The Perfect Storm." In each of those cases, the winners' visual effects, while being of very high quality, did not match the level of technical and aesthetic sophistication of the ILM nominees. However, the winners' films, themselves, are vastly superior to the losers' films.

I mean, "Twister" and "The Perfect Storm" are two truly awful films.

When it really comes down to it, the old adage is true. Visual effects are really only as good as the films they're in. You can't polish a piece of garbage movie with amazing visual effects, because in the end, it's still a piece of garbage.

And this is coming from a guy who worked on "Dungeons and Dragons." And "Van Helsing." And a lot of garbage in between.

link: VFX HQ - Academy Award Winners for visual effects


RC said...

thanks for the ILM re-cap...I hadn't realized it had been so long for ILM.

And yes, Perfect Storm had some nice effects, but Gladiators were so beautiful.

Maybe ILM needs to take some field trips together where they can potificate beauty together.

--RC of

Howie Weed said...

There is lots of truth to the notion that visual effects are perceived to be only as good as the movie they are surrounded by.

-The VFX for The Matrix Revolutions were astounding, but the film barely watchable.  If rendering prowess was the yardstick used for winning an Oscar then Matrix 3 would have walked away with the statue.  Instead it was not even nominated.  This issue may be slightly more complex due to some lame Academy rules surrounding two sequels coming out in the same year, but in essence the movie being a stinker nullified its chances at a nomination.

-Starship Troopers was acknowledged as an amazing piece of work inside the VFX community.  Jaws dropped.  Lavish praise was given.  It is routinely referenced as the best space battle on film.  Some of the best creature work on film as well. At the Oscas, it never had a chance.

-Star Wars; Revenge of the Sith had some very serious game.  Multiple worlds, from alien jungles to dense art deco cities to an erupting lava planet.  It was filled with war and pageantry on an immense scale.  Over 2000 densely packed shots.  No Oscar?  Try no nomination.

So is this "fair"?  Should the VFX in a movie be isolated from the rest and judged as stand alone components?  In a very real sense, no.  What is being voted on is the visceral impact of the work, not merely the technical accomplishment.   VFX are a component of story telling.  Like it or not,  that's the deal.   For everything else there are the separate Academy Technical Awards or the VES Awards.  

This is always a harsh realization to the talented, dedicated crews working their butts off on a loser of a movie.

The good part, Oscar or not, is that we are working on movies for a living.  Ain't nothin' better.  

- H